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So many options when trying to find the perfect Vietnam backpacking route! There are plenty of routes to choose from online, but the best way to do it, I think, is to do some research and find the destinations that match you. Make sure they’re worth it during the time of year you’ll be in the area.
This is my Vietnam backpacking route suggestion. But keep in mind that there are many other locations you can add on! It took me about two weeks to complete this route with little rush, so if you have more time, consider adding some other places.
The capital of Vietnam is often the first Vietnamese experience travelers have. It’s not as large and modern as the more popular Ho Chi Minh City, but it’s definitely loaded with a ton of culture. It also has that stereotypical Southeast Asian feel.
Hanoi is the perfect gateway to Southeast Asia. You’re immediately introduced to scamming taxi drivers, you’re squeezed within narrow streets, you’re overwhelmed by the street food options, and you get to play real-life Frogger with the hundreds of motorbikes zooming down the streets.
Hanoi, Vietnam really does play with your senses, and that’s coming from somebody who lived in Wuhan, China for over a year. I honestly didn’t think it could get any more overwhelming than that, but Hanoi sure did prove me wrong. Even though it may be one of my least favorite cities in Asia, I think everybody should experience it. It’s also a great gateway to Sapa and Halong Bay.
Vietnam Travel Tip: Don’t stay in Hanoi for more than three days. Compared to everywhere else, there isn’t a TON to do.
Ninh Binh is just a few hours away from Hanoi via bus or train, so it’s a perfect pin to add onto your Vietnam backpacking route. And even though it’s quite close to Hanoi, it’s completely different. You’re away from the city, surrounded by humongous karst mountains, surrounded by people a lot friendlier than those in Hanoi, and in the perfect place to rent a motorbike.
The traffic isn’t as crazy compared to Hanoi, and everything is within perfect distance to reach on a single tank of gas. Motorbike rentals are cheap, around 100,000 dong, and having one gives you complete control over your adventure.
Just drive around and enjoy the scenery of mountains, rivers, and rice fields. Join the workers to experience their daily life if you want to. And don’t worry about annoying them, you won’t. Actually, the workers constantly wave people in to join them. I didn’t take them up on their offer, but it would have been the perfect way to mingle with the locals. And because of that, I do regret it. You can also take a boat ride in Trang An or Tam Coc and enjoy several caves along the way.
Vietnam Travel Tip: When renting a motorbike, be prepared to let them hold your passport. When filling up the tank, make sure they actually give you the amount you asked for.
Hue is a night train away from Ninh Binh. It’s known for the old forbidden city and citadel surrounded by walls and moats that make you feel as if you’ve stepped into ancient times. Like Ninh Binh, it’s another perfect place to rent a motorbike and explore the scenery, especially the rice fields outside of the city center. Hue, Vietnam has a lot more tourists compared to other parts of Vietnam, I thought, so beware of that and pricier food.
Hoi An is just a few hours away from Hue via bus, and some people even take the long and scenic route via motorbike. Hoi An has an ancient town alongside a quiet river that has some great restaurants, souvenir shops, and photography opportunities. Once a month, on the full moon, the night sky over Hoi An comes to life as the lantern festival takes place.
Hoi An also has a beach perfect for taking a break from traveling. But don’t expect the most beautiful scenery you’ll find in other parts of Vietnam or Southern Thailand. But hey, if you’re in need of some sun and a place to enjoy a drink and book, Hoi An gets the job done.
Vietnam Travel Tip: Get used to flat out ignoring people wanting to sell you things. It may seem rude and uncomfortable at first, especially when they keep following you, but if you don’t, your entire trip could turn more annoying than exciting. Just a hint, if a man on a motorbike or just standing on the corner goes to shake your hand, asks how you are, and where you’re from, it’s probably going to be followed by tour package details.
Nearly every Vietnam backpacking route will start or end with Ho Chi Minh City. HCMC is the largest city and most modern in all of Vietnam. It is also full of historical monuments, buildings, and museums from the Vietnam War. I recommend you research the war before in order to enhance the cultural experience. The War Remnants Museum will give you an all new perspective on the very controversial Vietnam War. HCMC is quite far from Hue and Hoi An, especially if you’re taking a bus or train. Expect to be stuck on either for over 12 hours. The Da Nang airport is under an hour from Hoi An, and there are plenty of budget airlines to choose from, such as Vietjet Air. But as with any budget airline, beware of strict baggage rules.
Originally called Saigon before the war, HCMC is a good stop for high-end shopping if interested, street food, and bars and clubs.
Vietnam Travel Tip: Crossing the street here is intimidating and way out of any westerner’s comfort zone. Walk across the street at a steady pace and keep your eyes forward. If you turn and make eye contact with a driver, they’ll expect you to yield to them.
This is a basic Vietnam backpacking route that can be completed somewhat comfortably in two weeks. If you’re in Vietnam during the right time of year, definitely take a day away from Hanoi and hit up Sapa. The pictures look amazing. Unfortunately, I didn’t make it that far thanks to the time of year – February.
Have a suggestion for a traveler about to head to Vietnam? Let them know in the comments below!